The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a thoroughly charming and delightfully British effort, will no doubt become a stalwart of the Christmas and Boxing day rituals of years to come. It emanates goodwill out of every pore, with its delightful story of people at retirement age taking a trip to India to see the eponymous hotel in India, and finding it to be falling apart at the seams, as its manager, Sonny (Dev Patel), tries to make ends meet.
The actors pull this sentimental piece through, and it’s hard to find a more likable bunch of characters played by a more likable set of actors. Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel and Penelope Wilson are all on top form and all give it their all as the wonderful ensemble, a set that are all good people who have, in some way had bad things happen to them. This becomes the mantra for the film: watching each of the characters overcome their problems. Seeing as we have this cast presented to us, this is no hard task. This is the kind of film where every character feels like your favourite, simply because every nice little grace not in the filmmaking book is thrown at them. In the case of this film, that is no bad thing.
The cast makes it more than a sum of its parts.
Any attempts at something a bit deeper than mildly whimsical go astray, and it never leaves feel-good and slightly sentimental. It doesn’t even enter the realm of mawkish. The plot itself is complete fluff, but this isn’t the point. As certain plot strands weave unevenly in and out of the running time, you suspect also that the script isn’t up to much. And aside from the occasionally brilliant zinger (“I’m not one for thinking long term. I don’t even buy green bananas anymore”) the dialogue is incredibly ropey in places, the kind of lines you know are going to be said three lines before anyone says them. There are also moments when the editing slips, and the angle changes so dramatically that you can almost see the scenes that were cut.
Direction wise, John Madden keeps things wisely unremarkable. The film neither looks overbearingly good or bad, which is perfect for the subject matter. The film sticks to short takes and medium to long shots, which shows a very good measure of mood: this isn’t a film with anything new to say. This is simply a film that has been done before and will be done again. This time it is done very well.
The film is often staggeringly clichéd. Aside from one or two major details, I had the film more or less pegged from the first minute. But this is the kind of film you’ve seen many times before, in many different ways. I was reminded of Love Actually, while watching it; a film which is absolutely joyful to behold, despite its actual quality being incredibly questionable.
This, of course, doesn’t matter very much. If you were to hold this film up on aesthetic merits alone, it would fall to tatters. But this isn’t a film to do that with. This is a film to enjoy with your friends, to laugh at together, to have a good time with. You won’t think about it too much, but you’ll come out feeling elated, simply because you’ve spent two hours in the company of thoroughly wonderful people.
One of the most determinedly nice and inoffensively cheery films I’ve seen in a long while, a reminder that an enjoyable film can still be made without millions of dollars and explosions.